Skip to content
Home » 8 Zoo Photography Tips

8 Zoo Photography Tips

    8 Zoo Photography Tips

    We’ll examine eight helpful suggestions for photographing zoo animals today. When it comes to zoo photography, the first thing we should definitely consider is “why would I want to take photos at the zoo?” Zoo photography is frequently debatable among photographers. Others view it as “cheating,” while some see it as a fantastic opportunity to get images of animals they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to see up close. Zoo photos are prohibited in many wildlife photography competitions, and it is unethical to pass off an image of an animal taken in confinement as one taken in the wild. Zoos, however, offer a terrific chance to take pictures of animals you wouldn’t normally have access to for personal projects.

    I also think that a lot of photographers dislike the idea of doing zoo photos since we’ve seen it done poorly far too often. Good zoo photography presents a distinct set of challenges than photographing wild animals. Zoo animals are ready and willing models; making the image involves working with the environment and removing the animals from their unnatural settings.

    Choose the Right Zoo

    Every time we visit a new place, my three animal-loving children want to visit the zoo. It is quite clear that not all zoos are made equal when it comes to photography after visiting hundreds of them throughout the years. Zoo to zoo can have different animal species, but more importantly, the habitats that the animals dwell in can vary greatly.

    The best places to take pictures of animals that look natural are safari-style zoo exhibits. The exhibit is typically ridden through in a large group, which is a drawback. Because of this, you have no control over where you aim your gun or how long you spend gazing at the animals.

    Zoos are increasingly being built with open exhibit kinds, where the enclosure is enclosed by lower walls and there are no bars or netting to worry about. The disadvantage of this exhibit design is that it frequently (though not always) relies on elevation to keep the animals contained. The walls are waist high, but the animal enclosure is lower than the viewing area; as a result, the walls are lower than the viewing area. You are then left with an unhindered top-down view of the creatures.

    Glass-enclosed zoo exhibits may allow visitors to see animals up close and relatively unhindered, but reflections and glare pose their own set of difficulties. In a moment, we’ll look at ways to overcome such difficulties. Bars around exhibits could seem like a challenge, but if the bars are far apart, you can probably shoot through them with little difficulty.

    The display types that are encircled by fencing, mesh, or small bars are my least favorite to photograph. Photographers have some significant obstacles while working in a fully walled exhibit like this, but this does not imply that it is impossible to capture a worthwhile image. Later in the article, we will discuss how to handle this enclosure type.

    The type of exhibit the animals live in is just as important as the type of enclosure. Many zoos design exhibits that aren’t much like cages and instead give the animals a lovely, natural setting to live in. You are more likely to be able to capture an image of an animal that looks natural the better and more natural the ecosystem the animal is in.

    What kinds of behind-the-scenes tours and experiences your zoo offers is something else to consider. For a close contact with an animal you want to have the chance to photograph, which is frequently available for an additional fee, you could find the experience worthwhile. In addition, although though most zoos welcome and promote photography, there are frequently guidelines that forbid it or call for specific authorization for pictures intended for sale.

    Use a Long Focal Length, and a Wide Aperture

    To get quality photographs of zoos, you don’t need fancy (i.e. pricey) equipment. The animals are typically not moving very quickly and are kept in an enclosure that is built for optimal viewing. As a result, you don’t require the same focal lengths as you would if you were taking pictures on the African Savanah. But with zoo photography, long focal lengths and large apertures offer a very clear benefit. They enable shallow depth of field photography.

    You can blur the background with a shallow depth of field, possibly covering an unrealistic animal enclosure. The ability to shoot an animal directly through the fence or enclosure that surrounds it makes shallow depth of field crucial. Use your longest lens and widest aperture to focus on an animal when it is encircled by fencing, netting, or bars. The fencing will become “invisible” in your shot if it is sufficiently out of the camera’s field of focus.

    Watch Your Background: Control Your Shooting Angle

    Controlling your shooting angle is the simplest (and most obvious) approach to create good-looking, authentic-looking zoo photos. Even though it’s uncommon to get a complete 360-degree view of an animal enclosure, most exhibits provide a range of viewing angles, and occasionally moving to the side or changing postures just slightly might mean the difference between a fine image and a picture that screams “caged animal.” Moving up or down in your shooting position might also have a significant impact. Rather than using a fence as the background, you can frequently picture the animal against either grass or the sky. Another benefit of using a zoom lens is that, in some cases, cropping in closely on the subject animal is the only way to avoid the image looking obviously like it was taken at a zoo.

    Use a Polarizing Filter

    A lot of zoo displays are covered in glass, allowing you to get near to the animal and observe it in its natural habitat. The drawback of exhibitions with glass fronts is that shooting through glass may be more difficult than it seems. Your camera may have difficulties focusing automatically if the glass is particularly thick or dusty, and you may need to manually focus on the animal. Using the previously mentioned wide aperture and long focal length can also aid in blurring filthy glass. The danger of glare and reflections, however, is by far the main problem that glass poses.

    Consider the Time of Day (and the Weather) Carefully

    Early morning and late afternoon shooting can result in more aesthetically pleasing lighting, as with most outdoor photography. You are, of course, constrained by opening and closing hours, unlike the majority of landscape photography. If you’re forced to take pictures in the sun, head for the shade. The problem of the overhead light won’t be as severe in shows with dense tree cover. It should be noted that strong sunshine bouncing off of bars and fencing can make it exceedingly challenging to take pictures through them.

    Look for Gesture

    Just capturing a good portrait of an animal when you first start out photography zoo animals presents a hurdle. It takes a lot of effort to locate animals that are well-lit, have an angle that makes it impossible to tell they are in a cage, and can be photographed while passing through bars, fencing, glass, or other obstructions. But once you’ve mastered the “portrait” shots of the animals, it’s time to focus on capturing photos that show good gesture. Gesture isn’t simply movement (although movement is excellent), it may also be a good head tilt, the placement of the body, or the presence of wings—anything that adds to the visual interest of a picture and elevates it above a close-up of an animal’s face. Exhibits of free-flying birds can be a fantastic place to start recording gesture. Patience is the key to gesture. Look for the animal that is standing in a nice posture for a picture, then wait.

    Be Flexible

    Being flexible with the creatures you plan to capture is the best way to return home with high-quality animal images. It’s likely that you may pass a cute monkey playing in front of the cage bars, which would make for an ideal photograph. The harsh light and extreme dynamic range will destroy an otherwise excellent photo because the lion will be resting partially in the sun and partially in the shadow. If it weren’t for the background’s bright red fence, the elephant would be ideal. And although they play in front of false rocks and a vibrantly painted wall, the penguins are animated.

    Think Beyond the Animals

    I’ve assumed throughout this post that photographing animals in a zoo is intended to provide pleasing, authentic-looking animal photographs. However, this isn’t the sole method of zoo photography. Turning your camera on the visitors—zoos are full with interesting people—might result in compelling and distinctive photographs. You could wish to shoot the story of an animal’s imprisonment rather than portraying it in a way that makes the subject appear “wild.” Numerous zoos offer eye-catching flowers, greenery, or displays that make for interesting photos. And while taking pictures at a zoo, it would be interesting to set yourself the task of taking detail shots, textures, or abstract pictures (of the animals or something else).

    Whatever your theme, style, or equipment preferences, I urge you to visit your nearby zoo this summer and see if you can’t take some stunning and distinctive pictures that you may display at home. How do you feel? Do you like taking pictures in the zoo, or do you normally avoid it because it’s so overdone? Please feel free to reply with your ideas!

    Learn more: 10 Underwater Photography Tips For Beginners